Rio’s government made its most significant investment yet in 2024’s Carnival. If it pays off, everyone wins.
Rita de Cassia Oliveira takes a brief pause to reorganise a display of colourful earrings, before returning to serve a group of tourists. They’re picking out shiny shorts and sparkly bikini tops for this year’s Carnival street parties. During this period, Oliveira swaps her usual swimwear merchandise for Carnival outfits, and expects February’s income to double compared to other months.
“It’s the best time of year for those who work on the streets,” she says as she arranges pots of glitter at her outdoor stall on a busy Copacabana street corner.
Shopping in Rio de Janeiro amps up in the weeks leading up to Carnival. The festivities attract swarms of national and international tourists who come for the world-famous parades and block parties. Yet it’s more than just fun – for Brazil, it’s a financial boon. Tourists spend millions during Carnival, helping generate tens of thousands of temporary jobs in the city.
This year, Rio de Janeiro is estimated to rake in an historical high of 5.3bn reais (£846m; $1.06b) from tourism-related activities in February. The state government has made the largest investment yet in the 2024 Carnival preparations and celebrations: 62.5m reais (£10m; $12.5m). The infusion of capital has created a record number of jobs, shored up infrastructure to support tourism and is expected to establish long-term social improvements within the city.
“For every one Brazilian real invested in tourism in Rio, it brings a three to fourfold return,” says Ronnie Costa, the president of Rio’s tourism board Riotur.
Millions and millions
The investment in Carnival is good timing. Brazil enjoyed record numbers of international tourists last year, who brought $6.9bn (£5.5bn) into the Brazilian economy – an increase of 1.5% compared to the previous highest revenue recorded in 2014, when Brazil hosted the World Cup. The country’s Tourism Plan has set a goal of reaching $8.1bn (£6.4bn) by 2027.
In Rio, the government has been investing in improvements in infrastructure, security and mobility in hopes to draw visitors with more flights into the city’s largest international airport and increased police presence in tourist hotspots. This year, Rio will have an enforcement of more than 12,000 military police during Carnival, an increase of 5% compared to last year. Officials are hoping this will pay dividends to counter Rio’s reputation of violent crime. National Confederation of Commerce (CNC) showed this perception lost the state 3.3bn reais (£536m; $660m) in tourism in 2023.
“The city needs to enable decent infrastructure to receive all these tourists, so the City and Rio state are making investments to create a good, positive experience,” says Felipe Tavares, chief economist at CNC.
Rio has also poured 40.5m reais (£6.5m; $8.1m) into samba schools, the clubs that create the city’s famous parades. The schools open to the public weeks before Christmas for visitors to watch and join in with the singing, music and dance rehearsals.
“When schools have more money, they have more resources to invest in equipment, costumes and floats. Tourists will see something nicer, tidier and more sophisticated; a cooler avenue and cooler parties; and a better day-to-day experience,” says Carlos Werneck, president of tourism group Visit Rio.
In addition, they’ve invested tens of millions reais into extending Carnival celebrations outside of the official five-day Carnival period. The capital has already helped fund the usual block parties on the weekends soon after New Year, and will support the street parties that continue in the weeks after the parades – allowing tourists a Carnival experience in Rio throughout the whole first quarter of the year. Tourism officials at Riotur and Visit Rio say there are also possible plans for a Carnival-style celebration in the middle of the year.
Benefits for Brazil
A large number of Rio’s residents depend on the celebrations and subsequent tourism for income. The investments in 2024’s Carnival have created 50,000 new jobs, says Costa, which predominantly support socially vulnerable groups from low-income neighbourhoods. The samba schools employ hundreds of people, including seamstresses, musicians, performers and organisers.
Full-time employees in Brazil typically receive an additional month’s salary at the end of the year, called the “thirteenth salary“. For self-employed or informal street workers, Carnival revenue is the equivalent of this bonus as well as an opportunity to pay off debts and save, says Oliveira, Copacabana’s street seller. This year, Rio officially registered 15,000 street sellers who will work during the block parties and parades, up from 10,000 last year.
“Carnival represents an important source of extra income for independent street vendors to increase their revenue during the period,” says Bruno Guerra, director of popular parties at event and entertainment company Dream Factory. “This extra money helps support their families and pay additional expenses, often playing a fundamental role in the financial stability of these independent street sellers.”
But it’s not all about profits, says Tavares. “When we have such a large development in Carnival and tourism, we see significant social improvements in the region,” he said. “Rio is increasingly becoming more professional in Carnival and the tourism industry. More of those in tourism speak English and Spanish. You see menus in two or three languages. The entire city, the entire economy of Rio is adapting to become this international and national tourism hub.”
Beyond Rio, São Paulo state is also expected to get a record return from tourism in February at 16.2bn reais (£2.6bn; $3.25bn) – almost three times as much as Rio state, which Tavares says is due to the region’s size. “We are seeing destinations that were not traditional for Brazilian Carnival, such as the states of Paraná, Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais and São Paulo growing a lot every year.”
For Rio’s street sellers, like Oliviera, it’s a magical time. She says, “It’s like Christmas for us.”